The Foundation Ground

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Saint Petersburg is relatively young. Since its foundation in the early 1700s, the city was caught up in a stunning tapestry of historic economic, political and social events, which few one-thousand-year-old cities can boast.

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Before the city’s foundation, Russian people had inhabited Neva banks and the coast of the Gulf of Finland for many centuries. The strategic importance of the region was evident even then, since it served as a springboard for successful economical and cultural relationships with rapidly evolving European societies. The area was also an attraction for Russia’s eternal rivals – the Swedes and the Germans. In the 16th century, when the country was in decline, the Swedes conquered a vast area lying between Ladozhskoye Lake and Narva and blocked access to the Baltic Sea for Russia for nearly 100 years.

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The history of regaining the area goes hand in hand with the history of the city’s erection. Peter the Great took reign over Russia in critical times. The tsar realized that there was no way for the country to rise from the ashes of the Time of Trouble without establishing a long-lasting relationship with the rest of Europe. He also realized that it would take a military action to free the northern lands from the Swedes and win back access to the Baltic Sea and therefore to Europe.

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Saint Petersburg was founded in 1703, when the Swedes abandoned the area lying around the Delta of the River Neva. Here the river forms numerous forks and branches dissecting the piece of land into several big islands and scores of smaller ones. There were 101 islands in the delta formed by a network of canals, many of which were filled in as the city grew.

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In 1720, one of the representatives of the Polish Embassy gave his own description of the St. Petersburg’s foundation ground. In his story, he mentioned fifteen little hutches owned by Swedish fishermen, which were found exactly where the city was started.

St. Petersburg Heading Toward Capitalism

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When Alexander II was crowned, the Russian Empire was dealing with economic decline and the consequences of the defeat in the Crimean War. With the thunder of social unrest drawing closer than ever and the gap between Russia and the leading European economies growing more evident, an immediate action was required.

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The abolition of serfdom was one of the most radical steps toward liberal economy. Also, Alexander introduced local self-government organs called ‘zemstvos’, which were authorized to provide roads, medical and schooling services. St. Petersburg obtained a radically new self-government system.

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Meanwhile, there was a growing public dissatisfaction with the reforms as being not sufficiently liberal and therefore failed to overcome the conservative trends that inhibited the country’s social and economic development. The government’s oppressive policy resulted in the appearance of the Narodnaya Volya  – a clandestine terrorist organization, whose members assassinated Alexander II on March 1, 1881. The beautiful Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood was erected right at the murder site. Infuriated by his father’s assassination, Alexander III took an extremely tough line against radical organizations and curtailed all liberal reforms.

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In the late 1800s, St. Petersburg became a capitalist city with national and foreign enterprises growing and banking systems developing. In the 1890s, construction was booming and blooming, and the city’s architecture began to grow taller. Liteiny bridge was built, and it was the first place in St. Petersburg to be equipped with street lights. It was the time when monuments to Catherine and Nicholas I were erected. Also, the first monument to the poet Alexander Pushkin was built.

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Foundation of Saint-Petersburg

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By the time of the foundation of St. Petersburg, the Northern War had been raging for three years, and Russia had regained a large part of the land lost a century before, including the delta of the River Neva. However, with the threat persisting and more areas needing to be freed from the Swedish occupation, it was absolutely imperative that Russia strengthened its presence in the north-west by building a stronghold. Under these circumstances, Peter the Great released an order to erect a fortress on Zayachy Island – one of the many islands found in the delta.

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The fortress appeared to be the city’s first erection. The first stone was laid in its foundation on May 27 N. S., 1703. The fortress and, later, the city were named after St. Peter, the tzar’s patron saint. Nowadays, May 27 is officially celebrated as St. Petersburg’s foundation day. On May 27, 2003, the city celebrated its 300th anniversary, in preparation for which it had undergone a massive renovation.

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By the spring of 1704, the hexangular fortress was there, its front bastions projecting forward. Peter designed it as Russia’s main foothold in the war against Sweden

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In an effort to secure the conquered positions, Peter launched the construction of a military base with a ship haven, ammunition storage buildings, warehouses, barracks, and officers houses close to the Peter and Paul Fortress. The new city was designed as a military and trading port. It was supposed to concentrate industries serving military needs, including the casting bed, leather factory, powder mill, etc. The main shipping route was redirected from Arkhangelsk to St. Petersburg. In 1703, St. Petersburg gave a pompous reception to the first foreign trading ship arriving in it.

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It took a tremendous amount of manpower to build such a large city on such a boggy piece of land. Thousands of peasants were forced to move to the area, where they had to live an extremely tough life. Many of them perished from strain and diseases. In 1712, St. Petersburg gained the status of the capital of the Russian Empire.